April 26, Rob Flaks, WMDT
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MARYLAND – The Moore administration is seeking a federal disaster designation from the Federal Government for the Chesapeake Bay in an effort to help get federal dollars to solve the problem of invasive blue catfish running rampant in the bay.
“Federal funds could be used for helping to offset costs caused by that USDA regulation helping to invest for creating infrastructure for processing fish which would help producers aggregate the fish and to process more on a daily basis as well increase the market beyond our local region,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Executive Director Allison Colden.
Colden says the extra costs for catfish processing stem from a USDA decision that requires an inspector to be on sight for all catfish processing, a requirement no other form of seafood or fishing faces in the US.
She tells us the requirements were added as a way to protect catfish production in the US South from foreign imports in 2008 but today are hamstringing efforts to ramp up the catfishing industry.
“It’s had this unintended consequence of additional burdens on the bay processors and making hard for them to process wild caught locally sourced invasive catfish,” Colden said.
Director of the Delmarva Fisheries Association Captain Robert Newberry says the USDA regulations have hurt watermen but he doesn’t fully agree with a disaster deceleration either.
“The possibility with them declaring it a disaster is it comes with more regulation coming on striped bass, crabs, eels, everything else because that’s what they are saying the catfish are affecting,” Newberry said, adding that “I don’t think the fishery has to be declared a disaster to curtail these blue catfish, we understand [The declaration funding] is a good move we don’t think the declaration is a good process and as far as the inspectors it’s simple they just gotta go,” he said.
The current disaster application is still being processed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, on what the final federal dollar amount could be.
A similar deceleration issued in 2008 at the request of the O’Malley administration resulted in 30 million dollars in federal funding.
Both the DFA and CBF say they hope to see the funds used to increase the scale of processing and marketing push for the catfish in local restaurants on Delmarva and nationwide.